music for the eyes

Here’s a fun one: My local community/university orches­tra will be pre­mier­ing a new piece this week­end. Stan­ford Uni­ver­sity com­poser Mark Apple­baum has com­posed a work for orches­tra with a spe­cial, unusual soloist: a florist.

The Con­certo for Florist and Orches­tra riffs on the tra­di­tional notion of a con­certo, where one or more vir­tu­oso solists duke it out musi­cally with an accom­pa­ny­ing ensem­ble. In the new work, the orches­tra will play and the florist will…presumably array flow­ers and leaves vir­tu­os­ti­cally all over the stage. Some musi­cal con­certo soloists have rep­u­ta­tions for being high-strung indi­vid­u­als, and to my mind the new piece also riffs on the idea of florists some­times hav­ing a rep­u­ta­tion for being just as high-strung.

The work’s soloist will be James Del­Prince, Asso­ciate Pro­fes­sor of Plant and Soil Sci­ences with a spe­cial­iza­tion in Flo­ral Design and Inte­rior Plantscap­ing Design at Mis­sis­sippi State Uni­ver­sity. On his cam­pus biog­ra­phy page Del­Prince writes, “The aes­thet­ics of hor­ti­cul­ture involve recog­ni­tion of the intrin­sic beauty of plants and flow­ers along with the prac­ticed skill of flo­ral design and inte­rior plant place­ment. I enjoy and value the oppor­tu­nity to bring under­stand­ing and appre­ci­a­tion of flo­ral and plant design to peo­ple.” And this weekend’s performance–the sec­ond time Del­Prince has worked flo­ral magic with Mark Applebaum’s music to accom­pany him–seems like a great way to bring some of that appre­ci­a­tion to a dif­fer­ent sort of audi­ence than peo­ple look­ing for some­thing to dec­o­rate their wedding.

If you want more tra­di­tional fare, the all-concerto con­cert opens with Prokofiev’s Sec­ond Vio­lin Con­certo, with Han­nah Cho, win­ner of the orchestra’s 2009 Youth Artist Com­pe­ti­tion. Clos­ing the evening will be another “con­cep­tual con­certo,” Béla Bartók’s Con­certo for Orches­tra, a con­certo with no soloists at all other than mem­bers of the orches­tra, all of whom will have to work pretty hard to play the score.

One of my music profs from many years ago, Robert Erick­son, was famous for shut­ting his eyes when lis­ten­ing to per­for­mances. He wasn’t bored; he just didn’t want the visu­als to get in the way of truly hear­ing the music. You won’t want to shut your eyese for Saturday’s and Sunday’s performances.

The La Jolla Sym­phony per­forms. Steven Schick conducts.

the humble coffeeberry

Fill in the blank:
Cal­i­for­nia cof­fee­ber­ries are __________

  1. ver­sa­tile in the landscape
  2. impor­tant mem­bers of the ecosystem
  3. bor­ing as dirt

Cof­fee­ber­ries, Fran­gula cal­i­for­nica (aka Rham­nus cal­i­for­nica) are com­mon plants in Cal­i­for­nia native plant gar­dens. The plants stay green and leafy all year and pro­vide a wel­come ever­green back­ground for other species that go through more extrav­a­gant bloom-and-bust cycles. They’re tough plants, and you can find clones that tol­er­ate higher water parts of the gar­den as well as areas that sub­sist on nat­ural rainfall.

The species pro­duces berries that progress from red to pur­ple to black over the course of the sum­mer. Any plant that pro­duces berries is likely to be an impor­tant food source for wildlife. Ear­lier in the sea­son, in flower, it keeps pol­li­na­tors happy.

An unknown cul­ti­var of coffeeberry–in bloom! Look at those amaz­ing flow­ers! (Don’t go wet­ting your­self in excite­ment, now…)

But until recently, I’d viewed them as fairly unin­ter­est­ing plants, and I’d have answered “3” to the fill-in-the-blank above. I had none in the garden.

That changed a cou­ple years ago with the intro­duc­tion to the gar­den of sev­eral plants of two dif­fer­ent clones. In the wilds the typ­i­cal form can get pretty large–fifteen feet tall in the shade, and more, and even wider. But gar­den selec­tions let you have smaller cof­fee­ber­ries that won’t need con­stant prun­ing to keep them at a rea­son­able size.

A closeup of the leaves on ‘Eve Case’

I picked a cou­ple plants of the clas­sic ‘Eve Case’ cul­ti­var, which has reported gar­den sizes of four to ten feet, depend­ing on water and sun expo­sure. It’s a fairly infor­mal plant, with fairly coarse leaves spaced fairly far apart on its stems. “Woodsy” would be an apt descrip­tion for it.

By con­trast, the leaves of ‘Tran­quil Margarita’

I also tried the cul­ti­var ‘Tran­quil Mar­garita,” which is offered by Las Pil­i­tas Nurs­ery. The nursery’s web­site gushes about this one: “It is the most beau­ti­ful cof­fee­berry I’ve ever seen. (At first I didn’t real­ize it was a cof­fee­berry!) Leaves are clean, shiny and rich look­ing. The whole plant looks like it belongs next to an Eng­lish Tudor in London.”

A still-young plant of ‘Tran­quil Mar­garita,’ look­ing a lit­tle more man­nered than ‘Eve Case’

Hyper­bole? I think not. In describ­ing plants for a Cal­i­for­nia gar­den, say­ing a plant could look great in a Tudor gar­den could almost be seen as an insult. But I really really like this plant. So far it’s been a good, clean grower, nice and upright. For me it’s been faster than ‘Eve Case,’ but a gopher attack on the roots my Eve’s doesn’t ren­der this a sci­en­tif­i­cally metic­u­lous comparison.

There are at a few other cul­ti­vars that are out in the mar­ket­place. Most com­mon is ‘Mound San Bruno’–or ‘Mount San Bruno’–which grows fairly low and wide, with a pretty dense habit and typ­i­cal fairly coarse leaves. ‘Seav­iew,’ a par­ent of ‘Eve Case,’ is an older vari­ety that is reported to be a good, taller ground­cover. (I haven’t observed any of this cul­ti­var. There’s also a ver­sion of it called ‘Seav­iew Improved.’) ‘Leather­leaf’ has thicker, darker leaves than the typ­i­cal form. ‘Lit­tle Sur’ gets men­tioned occa­sion­ally, but I don’t see it listed on lists I’ve con­sulted. It’s prob­a­bly one of the small­est versions.

There are prob­a­bly other vari­eties and cul­ti­vars out there. If you have space you can always grow the unadul­ter­ated, uns­e­lected form of the species and earn bonus points for sup­port­ing genetic diversity.

So there you have it, the hum­ble cof­fee­berry. I don’t think any­one would call it the sex­i­est thing with leaves, but as I get older I’m more and more attracted to plants that are sturdy and sub­tle over flashy and dis­pos­able hor­ti­cul­tural one night stands. Treat the plant with respect and it’ll be there for you for many morn­ings to come.

long, winding path

Sun­day we went up to LA for a fam­ily birth­day. While we were up there we stopped by Los Ange­les Mod­ern Auc­tions, which was hav­ing a pre­view for an upcom­ing sale that includes some really cool items by Ettore Sottsass, one of my favorite 20th Cen­tury design­ers. Paint­ings, sculp­ture, fur­ni­ture, gen­eral stuff: you can see it for years in books and mag­a­zines but the expe­ri­ence of com­ing face to face with it can be pretty different.

Once of the not-by-Sottsass lots in the sale is this immense gar­den path designed by Cal­i­for­nia ceramic artist Stan Bit­ters, a stu­dent of Peter Voulkos. Like Voulkos his work is inspired by the mate­r­ial of clay itself–And how can you get more earthy, more pri­mal than clay? Ceram­ics, gar­den­ing, it all can come from the same place.

The path can be assem­bled in sev­eral con­fig­u­ra­tions, and in this con­fig­u­ra­tion coils more than forty feet long. The piece comes from the later 1960s, at a time when Bit­ters was work­ing with a ceram­ics man­u­fac­turer that basi­cally gave him 20 tons of clay to see what he could make out of it.

When some­one gives you 20 tons of clay you make big things, and this is just one of many exam­ples of the really really big art­works he started to cre­ate. Most of his works of that era grew out of col­lab­o­ra­tions with architects–Big work works really well outdoors.

His work is all over pub­lic spaces up in the Fresno area. In recent years he’s been doing pub­lic and pri­vate com­mis­sions in the Los Ange­les and Palm Springs areas.

The gar­den path looked a tad cramped and out of place on dis­play in a ware­house full of pol­ished mod­ern and post­mod­ern fur­ni­ture and art, but just imag­ine this snaking its way through a land­scape. Very cool.

This was a path he made for his own home and gar­den, and it has a gen­tle casu­al­ness, a wel­come lack of striv­ing, that you can see in the pri­vate pieces artists make for them­selves and friends. You can make out the casual, earthy sur­face details and glaze in this detail.

So if your gar­den needs a casual but still pretty stun­ning focal point here’s your chance. You’ll prob­a­bly need to rent a very large truck to bring it home.

cellphone camera test

After hav­ing lived with­out a cell­phone for the last two cen­turies I finally took the leap. Not only did I get a cell­phone, I got a smart phone. The iPhones have been all the rage for a while, but I ended up select­ing an HTC MyTouch ser­viced by T-Mobile.

As some­one who’s a bit of a Lud­dite and who’s loudly protested cell­phones and cell­phone cul­ture, I’m almost ashamed to admit own­ing the device. Still, some­thing about the com­bi­na­tion of a device that is part-phone, part-camera, part-wireless router, part-web browser, part-music player, part-camcorder, part-GPS unit, part-nanny, part-godknowswhatelse seemed compelling.

The view look­ing north, up past Scripps Pier

Last week a good friend came to visit for a few days. A tourist trip up to the top of Mount Soledad, the high point of coastal San Diego, seemed like a good idea. Thurs­day was a break between win­ter storms, which meant that the vis­i­bil­ity could be pretty stunning.

Yes indeed. The views were ter­rific. Also, a lot of native plants sur­round­ing the lit­tle pad of green grass and park­ing at the top of the moun­tain were break­ing out into bloom.

Did some­one say “photo-op?”

Scar­let mon­key flower, Mimu­lus auran­ti­a­cus, but judg­ing from the focus the cam­era was more rapt with the view of La Jolla below.

Deer­weed, Lotus sco­par­ius, also frus­trat­ingly out of focus, no mat­ter how hard I tried to get the cam­era to focus on the flower instead of the back­ground foliage.

Since I didn’t have my real cam­era this seemed like a good test for the cam­era fea­ture on the new hand­held device. (Really, can you call it a phone anymore?)

Here’s a short stack of snap­shots I took up there. And yes, I con­sider them snap­shots, only snapshots.

I’m used to cam­eras with lots of con­trols. For con­trols, this model has a mod­er­ate zoom option and the abil­ity to turn the flash on or off or on auto­matic. That’s it for options. So, it does make for a simple-to-use cam­era, but it’s sim­ple to the point of being sim­plis­tic.

Coast sun­flower, Encelia cal­i­for­nica, show­ing both focus and expo­sure issues.

The flow­ers of lemon­ade­berry, Rhus inte­gri­fo­lia. Unlike my other attempts at close­ups, this shot came out clear and crisp–but still blown out in the highlights.

Achiev­ing good focus or get­ting an expo­sure that doesn’t over­ex­pose some­thing in the frame can be a chal­lenge. These are lim­i­ta­tions for lots of point and shoot cam­eras, so I don’t know that it’s any worse than some of them. Lens flare when you shoot into the sun can be a prob­lem, but that hap­pens with even the best of cameras.

The phone design­ers prob­a­bly real­ized that the cam­era would be liable to shake as you took a snap­shot. To com­pen­sate they applied a fairly extreme level of in-camera sharp­en­ing. For some images it’s barely notice­able, in oth­ers it’s so obvi­ous it hurts.

So as not to seem like I’m a total Mr. Neg­a­tive, there were a few things I did like. The wide 9:16 aspect ratio of the image–similar to the cur­rent gen­er­a­tion of televisions–is kin­duv cool and cin­e­matic. The 2:3 aspect ratio of old-school 35mm cam­eras is harder to work with and often feels unnatural.

A view with encelia and lemon­ade­berry in the fore­ground, as well as the ever-present coy­otoe­brush, baccharis.

That view again, this time with some chamise, Adenos­toma fas­ci­c­u­la­tum, in the fore­ground. I still have trou­ble decid­ing whether I’m in coastal sage scrub habi­tat or mar­itime chap­ar­ral. The pres­ence of chamise tells you that you’re in chaparral.

A view to the south. You could eas­ily see a cou­ple dozen miles into Mex­ico that day.

Col­ors looked pretty true to life.

And in the end there’s the much bet­ter chance that you’ll have the cell­phone cam­era handy when you’ve left the ded­i­cated cam­era at home. You may never miss another photo op again.

So…has life changed with a cell­phone? I can’t say that it has that much. It was handy to have when I was try­ing to nav­i­gate Philadel­phia a cou­ple weeks ago. It’s handy to keep in touch with peo­ple when you’re away from the land­line. And I guess I feel just a lit­tle bit more hip. Like, now, when peo­ple talk about angry birds, I real­ize chances are that they’re most likely talk­ing about the app and not what hap­pens when you dis­turb a nest.